Graffiti gets biggest global outing to date
PARIS — Toxic, Seen, Quik and Rammellzee: the mythical heroes of New York’s 1970s subway system graffiti scene hit Paris this week for the biggest outing to date of aerosol art from around the planet.
Titled "Tag", the first global show of the urban art scrawled on world walls and trains over four decades brings together works by 150 street art legends at one of the city’s top museums, the Grand Palais, until April 26.
Rammellzee from Queens, said to be one of the fathers of hip-hop, spoke to the bros from behind a Darth Vader-style mask complete with lights, Bronx-born Seen peeled back his sleeves to unveil his body-art, Quik, also from Queens, bizarrely turned up suited up.
A teenage fad born in New York’s ghettos and working-class streets, graffiti began to filter into art galleries and museums in the 80s. Since, Quik along with other urban art icons such as Koor or Toxic, have become established artists, and graffiti now is even sold at auction.
"Graffiti is a fleeting form of art," said Alain-Dominique Gallizia, the French architect who commissioned the works on show after encountering graffiti by today’s urban artists on his building sites.
"I wanted to gather a body of these works to shelter them over time."
Gallizia, known by the artists under his initials ADG, contacted the pioneers of graffiti along with their contemporaries and asked them to produce works for an exhibition, offering a workshop outside Paris where he now has a collection of 300.
"I was seduced by this art," he told AFP. "It was not right for it to disappear."
Signed Ghost, Fist, Blade, Nasty, Take 5, Psyckoze or Jaye, names invented for scrawling over trains and tunnels and walls, the works are largely from the US and France, but also include graffiti from Australia, Brazil, Chile and Japan.
"I’ve been doing this for 35 years now," said first-generation New York graffiti artist Seen, an Italian-American born in 1961, real name Richard Mirando.
"I started off as an 11-year-old scribbling on school doors and the next thing I was painting subway cars," he told AFP. "At first it was fun and then it became an addiction."
"I’d see my name on the trains, they were like moving billboards. I’d watch people on the platforms looking at my latest. People didn’t know who you were, but I’d become a brand-name."
Seen’s lettering style became famous as did Quik’s. In the 70s, Rammellzee and Toxic painted subway cars with Jean-Michel Basquiat, the late artist subsequently befriended by Andy Warhol.
Thinker Rammellzee went on to theorise his work as "Gothic futurism", a battle between letters and their warfare against alphabet standardisation.
All of them kicked off their careers in their teens. "In graffiti you write your own history," said Toxic, now 44, who chose his pseudonym because "my style was fatal."
"I was black, I was poor, I lived in the Bronx. I found a name, a style and I started to write my own life," he said.
"It was a creative sport, an adrenalin rush," added Quik, who started at 13 and now is 50. "I know it’s vandalism, but we just wanted to get our name on trains."
Some of the spray can stars now are in museums. "It is now agreed that the graffiti movement is an artistic movement," said Nailia Nourkhaeva, who runs the Onega gallery in Paris that specialises in street art.
"Graffiti is evolving," said Gallizia. "It’s just like classical art, there are genres, masters, schools, such as ‘wild style’ or ‘bubble’".
At auction, works by the New York pioneers can fetch up to 50,000 euros and more contemporary graffiti between 15,000 and 20,000 euros.
For details on the show, www.tagaugrandpalais.com